What may the future of the NZ protected cropping industry look like?
I remember the year 2000 celebrations like it was yesterday. Much has changed since that time, as to be expected. The greenhouse industry has grown steadily with new structures built, technology and cultivar improvements. However, has the New Zealand greenhouse industry moved forward fast enough to keep up with the rest of the world?
Late last year Kieran Read and former All Black Captain was quoted saying: "I think we as a nation are just passionate about little things that we can do because we are a little nation that can punch above our weight and we understand that it is part of our job as All Blacks to try and achieve things for us. I would hate to lose the expectation and all that comes with being an All Black."
I have thought a great deal about this quote, especially the last sentence, during my summer break. Having expectation, the drive to consistently create success is expected. It does not mean you may not lose a battle or two along the way but you will be constantly be looking to succeed.
In relation to the protected cropping industry many growers in New Zealand are without doubt as good as the best I have met in the world, with the tools we have, or can afford. However, in many cases, not all, we are racing in Mark 3 Cortina’s, while even our close neighbours lap us in their Formula One Ferrari’s. I believe this may change shortly, with the introduction of Medical Cannabis production in New Zealand. The growing facilities, being proposed, are enough to make my eyes water with envy. The state-of-the-art facilities may well be kitted out with the latest technology available, including double screens, artificial lighting, dehumidification systems to name a few. Vegetable growers in Europe and Canada already use much of this super high-tech equipment and this gives them a production and/or an efficiency advantage, therefore they have the ability to produce more or the same for less cost per m2.
The potential difference between the Medical Cannabis market and greenhouse vegetable market is obvious, the return per m2. The potential returns from growing Medicinal Cannabis indicates the initial capital investment, into the structures, is easily justified. In an already full and very competitive greenhouse vegetable market the returns on investment projections are satisfactory but it would appear a lot less favourable than if you were to grow Medical Cannabis. Therefore, it is extremely hard for even the best greenhouse vegetable growers to justify such high capital investment. This does not mean they would not know how to use or want these tools if they were given to them.
In the moderate term, if I crystal ball gaze, then I am confident more fruit, and possibly vegetable products, will be grown in either low or medium tech greenhouses and in the long term I think it is very likely high-tech facilities will be the norm. The last 20 years have been eye-opening and I just hope I am around for the next 20 to continue to be part of this amazing industry.
Berry crops may well be grown using only protected cropping structures by 2040 in NZ commercial operations.